“Pete the Mensch”—with a Side of Perch

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“So, Dad,” I asked as I was preparing fried perch filets for my 94-year old father’s lunch yesterday. “Who are you thinking about supporting in 2020?”

“Anybody but that SOB in the White House now.”

I knew that Dad and I shared a loathing for 45 — mine probably more unmitigated than his since I tend not to be able to hold back on my instant ire when 45 says pretty much anything at all. I’m not proud of that, but it is a fact. So my question had more to do with who among the declared Democratic field of candidates Dad was eyeing.

“No, but Dad, think about those who will be on the debate stage next week,” I said. “Who stands out?”

My father paused to consider the question. At 94, Dad—a retired anesthesiologist and all-around super-brilliant guy— has strong opinions on just about everything. He despises crooked politicians (yes, there are more than just the one.) He can abide neither laziness nor lying. And he thinks that William Shakespeare understood the fits and foibles of humanity better than anyone else ever in the world.

So it came as somewhat of a jolt when he finally answered, “Well, just anybody. I’d support just anybody.” I suppose that his response simply meant that he’d “vote blue no matter who.” Ok, I probably should have accepted that, but I couldn’t let it go. I was about to counter his answer by pressing him again for his favorites among the candidates. But he continued.

“Look Joyce,” he said, reaching for his Wall Street Journal that had just arrived. “Anybody — just anybody — is better than what we have now. So it matters little to me.”

“But Dad, you and I both know that some “anybodies” are much better than other “anybodies” when we’re talking about picking a president!” He looked at me with that wry smile that I’ve seen so many times before. It meant “give it up, Joyce. This is over.”

Not so fast. I quickly decided I needed to employ a different line of inquiry. “OK Dad, let me ask you this,” I said to him, though by then he was already concentrating on reading a story in the WSJ. “What are the top two qualifications you look for in a presidential candidate?”

Up popped his head. “That’s easy,” he answered. “They have to be intelligent and “mensch-lich.”

There. He said it. “Mensch-lich.” Being a “Mensch” is the highest praise that could be bestowed upon anyone. Yiddish in origin, the word “mensch” means “a particularly good person.” It’s synonymous with the terms “stand up guy”, “person of integrity”, or “person of exceptional character.” It means possessing the qualities one would seek in friendship, companionship or, say, an elected official. “Mensch-lich”, as stated by my father, means “mensch-like.”

The door was open. I walked in. “Well, you know, Dad, I adore Pete.”

“Yes, you’ve mentioned that once or twice,” he said, more than a little sarcastically.

“So as you know, Pete went to Harvard, he is a…”

“Rhodes Scholar?” Dad interrupted.

“Yes, OK, I know you know all about Pete,” I told him. “So we can put a great big check mark in the intelligence box for Pete. But Pete is far and away the ‘menschiest’ of all ‘mensches’. Let me tell you how I know.”

Dad obligingly put the paper down and listened. I started by telling him of the time Pete answered a question asked by an 11-year-old girl who wanted to know what she should do about being bullied. Pete told her that people who are different sometimes get bullied, but that the secret is that everybody’s different in some way. He comforted her by telling her that many bullies were bullied themselves and that bullies most have “something a little broken in them.” He suggested she address a bully by asking if they were OK. He also said that bullying was one of the reasons he was running for president. Wow.

Dad was fairly wide-eyed by now and really listening. Pete was rising on Dad’s list of the “anybodies.”

Then I told him about the time a few years ago when Pete heard over the police scanner about the need for someone who could translate Arabic at the local hospital. A young Somali boy was in critical condition and the doctors could not communicate with his mother about what they needed to do for the child. Pete, who was Mayor of South Bend at the time, dropped what he was doing to rush over to the hospital to act as the translator for as long as he was needed.

Now, Dad (ever the caring doctor) was smiling. Not a huge smile…but at least some teeth were showing. I was making progress.

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Mayor Pete Buttigieg communicating via American Sign Language to a young fan.

I told him a few more stories about how Pete has been “mensch-lich” everyday, but then I also asked Dad to read what Pete says about the plans and policies that are part of his candidate’s platform. I told him that in all of them — virtually ALL of them — he’d clearly see that Pete is a leader with a compassionate heart that acts as the lens through which everything he proposes is conceived. I asked him to take a deep dive on Petes campaign site (peteforamerica.com); and to go far beyond the major issues of health care, education, reproductive rights, racial justice, economic freedom, gender equity, climate change, gun laws, criminal justice reform and more. I referenced Pete’s bolder plans in national service and the Douglass Plan for Black America as evidence of his heart, character and brilliance.

“Now if Pete’s not the very definition of “mensch-lich”, then I don’t know who is,” I told him.

The perch was done, so I prepared a plate and served Dad his lunch. “You are so right,” I told him. “We’ve got to elect a Mensch, Dad. Imagine, of all the luck in the world, a guy like a Pete — a super-Mensch — would be running for President just as we’re working like mad to show 45 the door. So, could Pete be your guy, Dad?”

“Yeah, he could be. We’ll have to see.”

I’m going back to see Dad in a couple of days. I think I’ll make him some fresh chicken soup and matzo balls — his favorite. He gets pretty zen eating my chicken soup. So I’ve already got several more “Pete the Mensch” stories I’ll be serving up to him too. Delicious, eh? #20PETE20

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Cincinnati, Ohio-based writer, visual storyteller, PR Specialist and Telly and Emmy Award winning video and documentary producer.

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